Lorraine Welch

White Cane leads visually impaired out of the dark

Tony Reeve watches as his fellow residents take up a game of pool in the lounge area of Berwick seniors home.

“I can’t play pool,” he says. He also can’t read a book, dial a phone or do his laundry if someone has moved the knob on the washing machine. Going for a walk in his scooter is pretty difficult too when there are utility poles smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk. He once took a spill after running into one because he couldn’t see it.

Reeve is visually impaired and when he looks at people, he can only see their shadow.

But he has the support of the blind community behind him and his good friend of 43 years, Lorraine Welch.

Welch has been Reeve’s eyes for as long as he’s needed them and she helps him with his laundry and to read his bills – just some of the many things Reeve says people with normal vision take for granted.

To help him cope with his deteriorating vision, Reeve joined the Campbell River White Cane Club, a chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind, which offers support and companionship.

The group was started by two ladies who run the Comox Valley chapter and wanted to bring White Cane to Campbell River.

Welch said the women were having to catch a bus in Courtenay at six in the morning, then waiting around in Campbell River until the White Cane meeting started at 1:30 p.m., then waiting around some more until the 6 p.m. bus could take them home – all for an hour and a half meeting.

“So I stepped in and I said I would help out, not realizing of course I was going to be the secretary-treasurer,” Welch laughs.

She’s also the only one of the group of 12 who has her vision and is able to drive. That means she is picking everyone up to attend the monthly meetings, a process that can take upwards of an hour.

“We really, really need volunteer drivers,” Welch says.

The group also really needs funding so that Welch, possibly Reeve and Evelyn Naf, president of the White Cane group – who is also visually impaired, can attend a training session in Kamloops in April.

Since reactivating the group in September, Welch says not a whole lot has happened. They want to learn more so they know how to structure their meetings and how they can help their members.

They’re planning to bring in different spokespeople such as a dietician, the RCMP to warn of senior scams, optometrists and doctors. The group is also planning a trip to the library to learn how to use different equipment such as the Daisy Reader which reads stories aloud to those who can’t see to read the pages. Welch says the training workshop will also help the group become more aware of what’s available to help the blind.

“There are grants available that most people don’t know about,” Welch says. “There are grants, for instance, for those still working who are partially blind to help them purchase things like dictation machines, or recorders.”

This week is White Cane week and to celebrate and help raise money to send the group to Kamloops, Welch and Naf have been collecting donations outside of local businesses. Those who donate can put their name into a draw. The two will be collecting donations today (Feb. 12) in the Community Centre lobby from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and on Saturday at Quality Foods from 1 to 4 p.m.

They need to raise at least $1,000 to attend the training conference.

The group is also hoping to expand. Currently, there are only seniors in the group but Welch says they’re hoping people of all ages who are visually impaired will join. She says having a support network full of people going through the same struggle can be therapeutic.

“Once they become blind, they don’t have transportation, they don’t get out, they feel isolated,” she says. “This is a time for people to get out and socialize with people in the same position they are in.”

No matter what the cause of their lost eyesight.

Naf, the president of the local White Cane chapter, is losing her sight due to macular degeneration. She’s had laser therapy on her left eye which has only peripheral vision and in her right eye, she says she has a doughnut hole to see through.

Naf says the White Cane Club has been a great source of support for her and she’s thankful Welch came along and took on the group.

Welch says she was compelled to get involved with White Cane because she can relate to what the members are going through.

Welch, a woman of strong faith, says that about six or seven years ago she was told by an eye specialist that the fluid behind her eyes was drying up. She says her vision got so bad that she couldn’t see the street signs anymore and her daughter had to drive her to Victoria for appointments with her specialist.

Meanwhile, Welch says a youth group at her church began to pray for her. She says what happened next is almost unexplainable.

She says her vision came back.

“I went back to see the specialist and he asked what I had done since I had last been there,” Welch says. “He tested me and said I was fine.

“I’m very, very lucky.”

And so are the members of White Cane who rely on Welch – the only sighted member – to get them to and from the meetings.

“We probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Lorraine taking care of us,” Naf says.

Which is why the group is desperately seeking more volunteers to help with transportation or fundraising which has proven difficult.

“Our members can’t see,” Welch says. “When you’re low-sighted a car wash won’t go over well. We’re so limited in what we can do for fundraising.”

Anyone who would like to volunteer their time with White Cane can contact either Evelyn Naf at 250-286-4811 or Lorraine Welch at 250-923-8546. The White Cane Club meets the third Tuesday of each month at Berwick by the Sea from 1:30 to 3 p.m.